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220                                                                                                                  B. POLEVOI
hospitality; and this landscape, in whole and in part, has
been reproduced for posterity in numerous canvases as
an example of the mighty and modest grandeur of the
Russian scene.
This palace now served as a sanatorium of the Soviet
Air Force. In peacetime airmen had visited this place
with their wives and children. Now, wounded airmen
were sent here from hospital to convalesce. Alexei arrived
at the place not by the wide, roundabout, birch-lined,
asphalted road, but by the track through the wood that
led from the station straight to the lake. He approached
it from the rear, so to speak, and mingled unnoticed in
a large, noisy throng that surrounded two crowded buses
standing at the main entrance.
From the conversation, farewell greetings and wishes
of good luck Alexei gathered that they were saying good-
bye to airmen who were leaving the sanatorium for the
front. The departing airmen were merry and excited as
if they were going not to a place where death lurked
behind every cloud, but to their own, peacetime garri-
sons. The faces of those who were bidding them good-
bye expressed sadness and impatience. Alexei knew that
feeling; he himself had been feeling that same irresis-
tible attraction ever since the beginning of the gigantic
battle that was raging in the South; and it had intensified
as the situation on the front developed and became grav-
er. And when Stalingrad was mentioned in military
circles, quietly and cautiously as yet, this feeling grew
into an infinite longing and his enforced idleness at the
hospital had become unbearable.
Tanned, excited faces looked out of the windows of
the smart buses. A short, lame Armenian in striped pyja-
mas, with a bald patch on his head, one of the generally
recognised wits and voluntary comedians that one always
finds in every contingent of convalescents, hobbled and
fussed around the buses, waving his stick and shouting
his parting greetings:
"Fedya! Give my regards to the fascists in the air!
Pay them out for not letting you finish your course of
moon bath treatment! Fedya! Fedya! Make them feel
that it is caddish to prevent Soviet aces from taking their
moon baths!"